November 16, 2006

Welcome to the Peoples Republic of China

Leaving Mongolia behind with fantastic memories from a great 3 weeks in the country we set off bright and early on our train to Beijing, China. Along with us for the journey were a couple of "Train tour groups" - groups that has set off from Moscow to do the Trans-Siberian with either a couple of stops or none at all. In order to avoid the midnight renditions of Waltzing Matilda we took the opportunity to enjoy the comfort of our Kupe cabin for the 24hour trip through Mongolian desert and the border into China. Luckily enough we also bumped into Steve and Sarah our cabin mates from our trip into UB on the train heading to China.

Pulling into the station just inside Chinese territory (about 11pm) we were welcomed with rousing music piped into speakers dotted along the platform along with uniformed soldiers spaced the length of the train. Announcements were made in a variety of languages welcoming us to the PRC and wishing us a pleasant stay. All very well organised and an interesting introduction to China.

Following our ceremonial arrival our carriages were shunted off to siding hangers where we were able to hang out of the windows to see the changing of the wheels for the different guage line ahead. The carriages were separated then hoisted up with huge jacks before the wheels were swapped out with the new size.

Come morning we were scooting through green fields as we neared Beijing stopping briefly at a station as we crossed through the Great Wall north-weat of the city.

Arriving into Beijing we hustled our way into a taxi and from there Dee picks up the tale....

We've been sitting in a packed male dominated internet cafe for the last 6 hours trying to catch up on all our internet stuff. Suspiciously enough the same young guys from this morning are still sitting around us playing online games while they chain smoke pausing only clear their throat in a loud hock and deposit phlegm on the floor beside them. Nobody is showing any sign of moving .... this is dedication to gaming at it's best.

We've been in China for two weeks now and are loving every minute of it. Our first stop was Beijing and it didn't fail to disappoint. Despite the hazy sunshine due to pollution Beijing is a clean, vibrant hub to spend some time in. With it's many sights, specular food, maze like hutongs and colourful markets you can easily spend days exploring.

The famous Beijing hutongs are neighbourhoods of narrow roads and alleyways. Life in the hutongs seems to work like clockwork small busy family restaurants feed hundreds, rickshaws are busy delivering coal and collecting empty bottles, women separate rubbish, streets are swept and life seems to tick by with organised precision. So ... the food... it is probably best to start with that because there's been a lot of it in the last couple of weeks. After longing for a good Chinese meal for a couple of months we have been rewarded with culinary nirvana. We stayed in a hutong that was lined with amazing food. After a week of trying different places out we still hadn't scratched the surface - and to be honest we reluctantly left. One of the most enjoyable things to do was to walk up the hutong streets at different times of the day. In the early mornings the breakfast dumpling trays are stacked high later these are replaced by sizzling kebab stalls in the evening. During the day you can snack on potato pancakes, egg patties, mini candied apples, roasted chestnuts, buns.... the list goes on and on. We found one great Muslim restaurant serving tasty lamb kebabs, grilled bread and an out of this world aubergine dish. We became such regulars that we were allowed into the kitchen to see what the secret was. For the budget conscious backpacker there is even better news .... it's hard to run up a big bill in these restaurants. With the average dish costing a couple of dollars and a beer costing 30 cents everyone is a winner. Splurging we ventured to the famous Peking Duck restaurant to sample the local speciality.

In the run up to the 2008 Olympics there is an obvious drive to psych the city up for host success. Official souvenir shops are already dotted throughout the city and huge blowups of the five "friendlies" logos hold centre stage in Tiananmen Square. The level of readiness would almost fool you into thinking the games will be in a matter of weeks. Unfortunately as part of it's modernisation for the games the government is demolishing some of the old cosy hutongs forcing families, street vendors and small business out and replacing them with wide glitzy touristy streets. It seems such a shame as the character and history of area dies as well. Probably the biggest challenge for Beijing is improving the air quality in time. There are rumours of factories shutting during the games - it will certainly be interesting to see how it all pans out.

No trip to Beijing is complete without seeing the wall of all walls. The Great Wall of China zigzags 6,700 kilometers from east to west of China. We decided to work up an appetite by hiking the steep rocky 10 km stretch between Jinshanling and Simatai. This part of the wall has not been renovated like much of the other sections outside Beijing. This made it a challenging climb through ruins and crumbling steps often at a 70 degree angle. At the peaks was amazing to gaze into the horizon and see the wall snake into the horizon over steep mountains.
Back on the flat (and a little stiff) we visited Tiananmen Square, joined the queue and paid our respects to a pickled glowing Mao on view in his huge mausoleum. We saw Lenin last month in Moscow so we're going for the trio! Then it was on to the immense Forbidden City, right in the heart of Beijing this complex of palaces was home to two dynasties of emperors and thus off limits to Joe Soap for 500 years. You need an entire day to wander around the grounds and take it all in.

When the Beijing summers got a little too hot for the emperors they hightailed it off to the Summer Palace. The grounds and scale of this park is astounding. It has it's own artificial lake and lots of little gardens, plenty of room for chilling out. We spent a lovely day there soaking up the atmosphere and watching people fly their kites ridiculously high. Beijing certainly whetted our appetite for more. After eventually checking out of our friendly budget "Wanch Hotel" we escaped Beijing via hard seat on a smokey train to the city of Datong in the province of Shanxi.

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Flying blind

Hi All

Since we arrived in China we have not been able to get to our blog site to see how things publish so you will have to forgive us if we post something that really horks things up.
In this spirit I am trying something new below, posting a link to our flickr slideshow from Mongolia, I hope it works and I hope you like it.


Sensational Mongolia

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